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Aug 20, 2003
How To

High-impact Email Newsletter Writing Part II: How to Use Strong Bold Words in Your Intro

SUMMARY: Although the advice in this article is meant for marketers
writing email newsletters, we think anyone who has to write a press release should print it out and tape it to their wall. Please forward this to your PR dept when you are done with it.
The absolute hardest part of writing for your company email
newsletter (or press releases) is doing the intro.

That is because most of us were taught in school to start with a
broad generalization ("Business is picking up for everyone") and
then to narrow it down over a paragraph or two until you get to
your point ("hiring will increase 12% this quarter").

Try doing that in email and your readers will click "delete" in a

Our best tip for writing email-friendly intros is:

Write whatever you want to get yourself into the body of the
story. Then afterwards scroll back up and cut off your first
paragraph or two.

Want more help?

Here are four best-of tips reprinted with permission from the
report 'The Editorial Process' by Harry Baisden:

-> Tip #1. Look for the 'So What?' Angle

Your job is to come up with the 'so what?' angle. This
happened. So what? What does it mean to your readers? The more
you can tell your reader what the impact of an event or condition
will be on her, the more likely she will read it.

For example, which of the following leads do you think readers of
a transportation newsletter will be more likely to read:

Option a:
"President Bush last week signed into law a new tax on over-
the-road transport of heavy goods."

Option b:
"Over-the-road freight haulers face a 15% increase in federal
taxes thanks to a new tax bill President Bush approved last

-> Tip #2. Have People or Things Acting on People or Things

Forcing yourself to write an active lead makes you clarify your
writing. It makes you think, "Who did what to whom?" In
answering that question for yourself, you do a much better job of
answering it for your readers.

One giveaway you should look for is the word "by."

Any time you see that two-letter word in your copy, you know
you are having something or someone being acted upon "by" someone
or something else. Get rid of the by's in your copy and you have
gotten rid of most of the passive voice.

Not only should you look for the active over the passive in your
leads, Rene Cappon says in 'The Word,' "The more action your lead
conveys, the better. Strong verbs are important."

Cappon abhors verbs like moved, scheduled, expected and prepared
in leads.

Another clue to look for is any form of the verb "to be" in your
lead. While it's ok grammatically to write "Wall Street traders
were tense as they awaited news from the Far East markets,"
you will have a much better chance of catching your readers with
something like, "Tension gripped Wall Street as traders waited to
hear what was happening in Asia."

-> Tip #3. Keep it Short

Short leads are not a luxury in newsletters [and press releases];
they are a necessity.

It is your job to put these often-complicated ideas into the
simplest, most direct statements possible so your reader does not
have to wade through swamps of technological or bureaucratic

Just how long can a lead go before it is too long?

I have yet to see a newsletter story that required a lead of more
than one sentence. Sometimes a quick two or three-word sentence
at the end of a longer one can be used for effect:

"Republican Senators were planning to celebrate a victory in the
Clean Air debate this week. They won't be."

Often constructions like this can be set off with a dash. Two
sentences work just as well. Cases like this are rare,
particularly in newsletters. The one-sentence guideline is a safe

If the lead runs into a fifth line on your computer screen, look
for ways to cut it down.

-> Tip #4. Strong Words are the Most Economic

Adverbs are the bane of newsletter writing. A good, strong verb
usually does not need an adverb. If you want to get across strong
feeling, use a strong verb and you do not have to add to it with
an adverb.

"He ran swiftly around the track" conveys the thought ok, but why
not use a stronger verb and get rid of "swiftly:" "He flew
around the track."

Even more annoying is the use of a needless adverb with a strong

One of the worst adverbs I see cropping up is "actively," as in:
"This agency is actively pursuing a course of strict
interpretation of the rules."

Could that agency be "inactively pursuing" that course? If the
verb is active, it tells the reader that the subject is
"actively" doing whatever the verb says it is doing.

Adjectives can be overused too, and nouns should be descriptive.

A trek is considered an arduous or difficult journey. Why have
someone take an "arduous trek?" Adjectives that tell the color of
something whose color is already well-known get in the way, too.
Why have "red stoplights" or "green pines?"

Finally, stay away from qualifiers like "very" or "quite" or "a
bit." While "very" can be useful when you want special emphasis,
it usually is just that much more clutter.

William Zinsser says it best in 'On Writing Well:'

"Every little qualifier whittles away some fraction of trust on
the part of the reader. He wants a writer who believes in himself
and in what he is saying. Don't diminish this belief. Don't be
kind of bold. Be bold."

Note: Our thanks to the Newsletter & Electronic Publishers
Association for permission to quote from Baisden's report:

If you missed Part I of this article, it is open access
until 8/23 here

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